56th Course of the Postgraduate Training Programme: Who are we, what do we do and why?

This is a contribution by the participants oft he 56th Course of DIE’s Postgraduate Training Programme reflecting on the plenary phase and the topics dealt with in this phase.

We, as the participants of the Postgraduate Training Programme, would like to invite you to recap the last few weeks of the course. We dealt with a large set of topics such as democracy and peace, corruption, flight and migration, gender – to only name a few. With all these questions, fundamental and ethical reflections are inevitable. Do external actors have a right or maybe even an obligation to intervene in processes within other countries? What should this ideally look like? Dealing with these topics, we identified some answers but also even more questions. In any case, one important conclusion to us was that a blueprint will never be the right answer! In addition to the importance of the “bigger picture”, we should keep an eye on the uniqueness of each case. Context is key! Development cooperation approaches should be more about “best fit” than about “best practice”. Context specificity, partnership, and mutual learning should be in the foreground. At the same time structural conditions, path dependencies, project cycles, and pressure to present results will not make this easy for us in practice. But let’s be honest – if we had wanted to go the easy way, we would not have chosen this field of work, would we?

Other modules and units also gave cause for reflection. A particular highlight was the two-day workshop on Critical Whiteness. This enabled us to reflect on our own patterns of thought and to analyse existing racist structures in development cooperation. We discussed the meanings of all of this for our future professional life and learned why racist structures are prevalent everybody’s (and thus also our) thinking – and why this realisation is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is an important step towards reflecting on our attitudes and positions and ultimately being able to change our language and actions. The path to anti-racism is characterised by reflection and unpleasant realisations. However, this is necessary in order to take small steps in the right direction and to grow together. In our opinion, it is essential to be aware of our role and our privileges so that we can use them to overcome existing structures and not to unintentionally strengthen existing patterns of thought – in everyday life but also especially in the field of development cooperation.

The workshop, as well as the findings from previous modules, encouraged us to deal more intensively with our own language. Language is powerful – it is not only a mirror of our thoughts, it also shapes them. That is why it is important to us to be sensitive in the way we speak. Development cooperation terminology often implies “we vs. them“-approaches and implies unwanted hierarchies. We would therefore like to critically question established terms. Acknowledging the fact that „nobody’s perfect“, we therefore started to collect terms that we consider problematic and to exchange ideas about possible alternatives. Along with this, we would like to deal more intensively with topics such as diversity and gender – in general but also specifically with regard to the DIE and the Postgraduate Training Programme. If you are interested in becoming part of our learning process or want to provide input or food for thought, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Despite the growing COVID-19 numbers and the related restrictions, we have continued to bond as a group. The plenary phase is soon coming to an end and we are looking forward to the research team phase with excitement but also with some sadness. But until then, we will still experience the notorious simulation on government negotiations with Kenya in the upcoming week… and we’re looking very much forward to that!